Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What If? Why? How? What is it?

Like so much of his other works, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man evolved from asking, “What if?” For instance he wrote: “What if you landed on a far world the day after Christ had just left to go elsewhere? Or what if He were still there, waiting?” That’s how the story, “The Man” came about.

Another: “What if a man could order a marionette robot that was his exact clone? What would happen if he left it with his wife while he went out nights?” From that Bradbury wrote “Marionnetes, Inc.”

Leonardo da Vinci kept notebooks not only of sketches of inventions, but also lists of things he wanted to explore. Human anatomy. How certain things worked. Structures of things. And so on.

In the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is shown what the world would be like if he hadn’t been born. The moral of the story was that one person touches so many other lives. We don’t have the privilege of seeing what the world would be like if we weren’t born. But if you’re up for it, write about it.

Children are naturally curious. They bombard us with questions daily. They ask “Why?” or “How?” or “What is it?” As adults, unless it’s work related, we don’t ask those questions so much. Often we were told that it’s annoying to be asked so many questions. We got lazy. Or we don’t care much. How many times have you heard a news story or watched a TV show, and you came across something you didn’t know? Did you gloss over it, or did you look it up? How many times have we been told or have told our children to “Look it up?”

The internet is a limitless resource. No longer do we have to tug encyclopedia volumes from the shelf or trek to the library. We can go to our favorite search engine and type in a subject. Within seconds, we have the information in front of us. (What if the Internet hadn’t been invented?)

Get into the habit of asking: “Why?” “How?” “What is it?” Make a point to do this daily or weekly. Before you do any research, freewrite about your subject. For instance, “What is gazpacho?” Freewrite all you know on the subject. (It doesn’t matter if you know nothing.) Write whatever comes to mind. If you veer off the subject, don’t resist. Allow the creative process to take over. Later, when you have time, look up the subject. Read as much as you want. Then try another freewrite. Note the results.

We should also get into the habit of asking “What if?” For instance, what if you had arrived at a certain place ten minutes later—or earlier? What if you had made a different choice?

Freewrite for fifteen minutes beginning with, “What if?” Don’t worry about finishing your ideas or where they might go. Some ideas might seem pretty wacky. Write them down anyway. Keep asking “What if?” If you get stuck, keep repeating “What if?” until something else pops into your head. It doesn’t have to make sense. When you’re finished, look over this freewrite. Are there any potential story ideas? If not, don’t worry. Tuck it away for awhile. Something might come to you later. You can also use this exercise if you’re stuck with a story or character. Freewrite the possibilities. All the ideas don’t have to be usable. Just write.

And as always...have fun!

1 comment:

littlemel said...

No wonder it's nice blog. You are a writer. I can feel your pain by reading this. Yes it reminds me of my late father too.
Thanks for the comment on my blog. I'll try visit your blog now whenever I can.